The author holding a radio collar found on the hike, not the top of the inReach SE poking out from the shoulder pocket on the pack-photo by Naomi Hudetz
Let’s face it, updating your gear is always a debate, "Should I spend X amount of money to save Y amount of weight?" Is the most common question I ask myself when looking to update an item in my kit. This problem is only compounded when it comes to backcountry tech items like a GPS watch, camera, battery pack or in this case my satellite communicator.
I was an early adopter of the satellite communicator. I started off in the early 2000’s with a PLB for ocean fishing and then in 2011 I purchased my first SPOT device. That orange brick was great at times, but it lacked 2-way communication. In 2015 I borrowed a friends inReach to take on the Sierra High Route, it’s 2-way communication feature was a game changer especially when I was pinned down with 2 friends in a July snow and lightning storm and we needed to get info from home on how long it would last. So that year at Christmas my wife gifted me an inReach for my upcoming thru-hike on the CDT, it made being away from home for almost 6 months tolerable for both of us. It provided her the insurance that I was safely in camp each night on my thru-hike, while also providing us a way to communicate about things at home when I was on long stretches between town.
Fast forward a few years and Garmin comes out with the inReach Mini, and as much as I wanted to save 4oz and get one, I just couldn’t justify spending $400 to save 4oz and replace a still working device. For the past couple of years when on trips, my friends would have their inReach Mini tucked away in a pocket and I would look longingly at them wishing I had a new smaller and lighter device.
This winter Garmin released the newest inReach model, the new inReach Mini2, which boasted twice the battery life of the previous model. After much debate, I decided it was time to finally update to the latest and greatest model, and in April I received my new device just in time for a 220-mile hike along the CDT in New Mexico’s Black Range.
Location CDT NM, official route through the Black Range
Length of Hike 220 miles
Days in Field 10
Hiking along the CDT in New Mexico's Black Range in April of 2022, photo by Whitney La Ruffa
Sending and Receiving
I used this device for the first time while under the stars of a New Mexico sky in April. The first time I sent a message I was shocked at how fast it delivered, what was more surprising was how fast I received a response from home. I thought maybe this was just a fluke tonight, because my old model had a significant lag time to both send and receive a message. I spoke with a Garmin Rep at Summer OR in June and they confirmed to me that the new model does send and receive messages faster because of an updated processor. So, this aspect alone in my opinion is worth an upgrade if you have an older inReach model.
While on my hike my friends had the older Garmin inReach Mini and we both use the 20-minute tracking feature during the day, we decided to record the battery life over the first day to see how they differed. At the end of Day 1 the old model was at 84% and the new inReach Mini 2 had 94% battery left. What was more impressive was on Day 4 after 4 days of tracking, multiple text messages to home and back my inReach Mini 2 had 74% battery life.
With the extended battery life in the new model, I went over 5 days before I recharged my device at our food cache, and I still had plenty of battery to spare. What this field test taught me was that the new inReach Mini 2 will easily have enough battery life to avoid having to recharge it on trail, most thru-hikes rarely have you more than 7 days between resupply points.
Ease of Use
With my old inReach I always used the Garmin Earthmate App on my phone as I found it much easier to use than the little 4-way pad on the old model. With the inReach Mini 2 you must use a new app Garmin Explore to send messages, I found the new app easy and straightforward to use, so no complaints there. The only issue I can see for some users is not wanting to have to use precious battery life on their phone to use the device do more than send a preset message or SOS feature. I personally carry 2 Nitecore 10,000mAh battery packs so having enough power is never an issue for me.
While shelling out $400 for a new device can sting, I am very happy I did so this year. Between the exceptional battery life, lightning fast 2-way communication and saving close to 4oz in my base weight the pluses of this upgrade far outweighed the minuses. If you are thinking about getting your first satellite communicator or just upgrading from an older model I personally recommend the new Garmin inReach Mini2.
Older model owned previously by the author, weighing in at 6.9oz
New inReach Mini 2 weigh in at 3.5oz